8/14/2014 10:32:00 AM Proving golf isn't just an old man's game
Nicholas Overgaard, Tate Swanson, Jonny Bodell and Dawson Overgaard enjoyed a round of golf as part of the Junior Golf League last week at Chisago Lakes Golf Course.
When most people think of golfers, they picture older men in pleated slacks and stuffy polos with an arrogant attitude.
Little do they know that there is a youthful revolution sweeping the game, and nowhere is that more evident than at Chisago Lakes Golf Course.
The club’s golf pro and general manager, Todd Kueppers, has been extending the sport’s reach to younger kids in Chisago County, with great success.
For the past few years, Kueppers and some of his golfers headed to the local schools and put on a demonstration for the young students.
Recently, they have added kid-friendly teaching equipment to their arsenal, and the kids have responded tremendously. The equipment is called SNAG: Starting New At Golf, and it emphasizes the basics while giving beginners the correct form when the guys go out to teach golf.
The equipment comes in bright colors and is a fun way for the kids to pick up the game seamlessly. Kueppers has a handful of kids in his Junior Golf League that started golfing after using the SNAG equipment at the schools.
“That’s the problem with teaching kids golf, even with cut down clubs, it’s a small club face hitting a small ball,” Kueppers said. “This SNAG equipment gives them only two clubs with large faces on them and a ball about the size of a racquet ball. The kids are always doing something and never sitting around when we have the SNAG stations set up.”
There’s even a velcro suit and helmet that people can put on as the youngsters try to hit SNAG balls at them. At Taylors Falls school, Principal Jason Riebe was a good sport and stepped into the suit as kids got to tee off.
In 2014, Kueppers got a $3,000 grant, with Community Education’s Barry Hindt’s help, to buy more equipment and be able to make more trips to the schools for more days.
The grant also allowed the golf course to host its own SNAG tournament for area kids to come and practice with a fun course that has been set up. The kids were bussed in as part of the grant and were able to win prizes and gift cards.
The course also hosts two annual golf camps in late June and mid July, where the golf pros emphasize instruction, but also keep the mood light and goof around at times. The camps are open to any age group, but Kueppers’ said about half of the 100 kids that participate are between 5-7 years old. They end the camp playing a round and just enjoying the game. “We want them to have success, but also just want them to have fun,” the 15th year pro said. “If they hit one shot in those four days and they remember that feeling, we’ve done our job.”
For the more advanced youth golfers ages 8-14, there is a Junior Golf League that runs from mid-June through mid-August. It enables the kids to get out on the course twice a week. They set up tees in front of the forward tees which allows the kids to play a course that is about 2,700 yards long, compared to the usual 6,300 yards. They play different games each week and are able to earn prizes. “This way, the kids are able to learn respect, follow directions and learn etiquette within their group,” Kueppers said. “They learn respect for the course and to be respectful of other people on the course.”
Plus, Kueppers said, the junior league is becoming a place to show off the newest threads. “It’s the Rickie Fowler effect,” Kueppers said, referring to the popular PGA Tour golfer who dresses in bright colors and trendy clothes. “The kids show up all dressed up.”
The Junior Golf League Tournament was held this week to crown junior champions, and the course was also holding its own Drive, Chip and Putt Championship.
Augusta National did it and had competitions around the nation, with the winner to be able to play on the hallowed course.
Chisago Lakes decided to have its own and crown champions in different age divisions. They’ll get points for each station and then there will be a second round of finalists before a champion is crowned. “It will allow the kids to compete and to maybe get a little nervous,” Kueppers said.
The boom in junior golf even had an effect on the varsity team this spring.
Head Coach Bryon Rogers decided not to cut any golfers. He wanted the team to be over the traditional 16 competitors, so they ended up with 35 golfers, and 17 of them were seventh and eighth graders that had participated in junior golf at the Chisago Lakes Golf Course.
Some might worry about the older generation of golfers mixing with the new wave, but Kueppers has received mostly positive reviews of the kids from the older members. He even saw two young kids leave the putting green they were practicing on to help an older gentleman who had dropped his bucket of range balls earlier this summer.
“Most of our shareholders and older members realize they are the future,” he said.
And the kids are starting to realize it, too. “These kids are starting to be proud of it, and say ‘Yes, I’m different, I am a golfer.’,” Kueppers said.
For more information on the junior leagues and tournaments at the Chisago Lakes Golf Course, call Kueppers at 651-257-1484.